On March 13, Brandy Bridges was installing some of the two dozen CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs she had purchased in an attempt to save money on her energy bill.

One month later, though, Bridges is paying much more than she had ever expected to.

On that Tuesday, Bridges was installing one of the spiral-shaped light bulbs in her 7-year-old daughter's bedroom. Suddenly, the bulb plummeted to the floor, breaking on the shag carpet.

Bridges, who was wary of the dangers of cleaning up a fluorescent bulb, called The Home Depot where she purchased them. She was told that the bulbs had mercury in them and that she should not vacuum the area where the bulb had broken. Bridges was directed to call the Poison Control hotline.

Poison Control directed her to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Upon reaching the DEP the next day, the agency offered to send a specialist out to Bridges' house to test the air levels. The specialist arrived soon after the phone conversation and began testing the downstairs, where he found safe levels of mercury - below the state's limit of 300 ng/m3 (nanograms per cubic meter).

In the daughter's bedroom, the levels remained well below the 300 mark, except for near the carpet where the bulb broke. There the mercury levels spiked to 1,939 ng/m3. On a bag of toys that bulb fragments had landed on, the levels of mercury were 556 ng/m3.

Bridges was told by the specialist not to clean up the bulb and mercury powder by herself. He recommended the Clean Harbors Environmental Services branch in Hampden.

Clean Harbors gave Bridges a low-ball estimate of $2,000, based on what she described, to clean up the room properly. The work entailed removing anything with levels greater than 300 ng/m3, including the carpeting.

One month later, Bridges' daughter's bedroom remains sealed off with plastic "to avoid any dust blowing around" and to keep the family's pets from going in and out of the room.

Her daughter, Shayley, has to sleep downstairs in a full house that already consists of Bridges' fiancé, her 71-year-old mother and her handicapped brother.

Today, Bridges is "gathering finances" to pay the $2,000 for the cleaning herself. That won't cover the cost for new carpeting and other items that will have to be replaced. Her insurance company said it wouldn't cover the costs because mercury is considered a pollutant, like oil.

One month later, Bridges is still searching for answers. She has contacted staff members from the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to tell them about her situation but has received no response.

She has talked with representatives from the CDC and DEP and spent roughly two to three hours a day over the past several weeks, talking on the phone and in person and contacting local papers to get the word out on what she believes are dangerous light bulbs.

And, she said, she is wondering why the DEP "publicly recanted the statement" it made to an area newspaper, in which DEP officials said it was safe to clean up the CFL bulbs using household materials.

"I'm really upset. They should not change their story just because it does not fit into a good plan for these light bulbs," said Bridges. "I'm trying my best to keep my family safe and the state just keeps trying to cover it up."

Officials have said that Bridges has little to worry about and she could easily clean up the bulbs by hand.

State Toxicologist Andrew Smith said it would be unlikely that a person could contract mercury poisoning from the levels of mercury found in Bridges' daughter's room.

"In this situation, my understanding, was this 1,900 was the sign reading right at the spot of the floor where the bulb broke," said Smith. "While 1,900 was certainly considered an elevated reading of mercury vapor, it was a very localized level that I would not expect to result in any sign of mercury exposure."

Smith said mercury is only dangerous with long-term exposure and in this case the person would have to stay right at the spot of the 1,900 reading or there would have to be elevated levels of mercury vapor in the breathing zone - about 3 feet - above the spill. Mercury also dissipates over time.

The air in the bedroom at the 3-foot level measured between 31 to 49 ng/m3 of mercury, depending on the location.

Smith said a CFL light bulb breaking is not in the same category as when a mercury thermometer breaks.

A typical fluorescent bulb has between 1 and 25 milligrams of mercury with the majority of smaller ones - the size of the bulb that Bridges broke - having about 5 milligrams of mercury. This is about the amount of ink on the tip of a pen.

A typical mercury thermometer has between 500 and 3,000 milligrams of mercury, depending on its size. A mercury thermostat has even more.

"Often you will get high levels in the breathing zone area," said Smith about a broken thermometer. "High hundreds, if not thousands."

Smith said Bridges' call was the first of its kind he's ever received. He's received plenty of calls about broken mercury thermometers, old barometers that had broken, even a very old antique Civil War mirror that had a mercury coating on the back.

Many of these situations have had enough mercury to result in "fairly elevated levels in the home" and more care was needed for each situation. But Bridges' problem "is a whole different ballpark," said Smith.

Scott Cowger, director of outreach and communications for the DEP, said the DEP's Web site (www.maine.gov/dep/) has guidelines for cleaning up a broken fluorescent bulb.

Cowger said it is important to ventilate the area by opening windows and not to vacuum the area of the broken bulb, which may spread the mercury. While wearing appropriate safety gloves, glasses, coveralls or old clothing and a dust mask, a person can remove the glass pieces and put them in a closed container.

The dust can be cleaned up using either two pieces of stiff paper, a disposal broom and dustpan or a commercial mercury spill kit. Afterward, the area should be patted with the sticky side of tape, according to the DEP Web site.

Cowger said all the items used in cleaning up the spill should be treated as "universal waste" or a household hazardous waste that can be disposed of without hiring professionals. He said that almost every town has a program for recycling or removing universal waste, which includes computers, electronic devices and fluorescent bulbs, at the transfer station.

"We encourage people not to panic if they break a lightbulb," said Cowger.

Cowger said the instructions on the Web site are the same for if a mercury thermometer breaks. If a person breaks anything bigger than a thermometer, for example a thermostat, Cowger recommends calling a professional to clean up the spill.

The DEP spokesman said, though, it "isn't necessary to hire professionals at all" for a light bulb. The specialist who responded to Bridges' broken bulb was trained to respond to chemical spills and to clean up such spills to "appropriate standards."

As for the dangers of CFL bulbs, Cowger said they are more help than hindrance.

For every CFL bulb a person uses, he or she is preventing mercury emissions and using less energy, said Cowger, but it is still important to educate people that these bulbs do contain a small amount of mercury.

"We're doing our part and I think using fluorescent bulbs helps reduce that overall mercury burden on the environment, so people shouldn't be afraid of them, by any means," he said. "They should be proud to burn those bulbs as a way of lowering our entire mercury burden."

To Bridges, the DEP's suggestions for cleaning her rug seem "ridiculous."

"I don't think it's possible to safely clean mercury out of a shag rug with duct tape and paper ... I believe their first notion to have it cleaned professionally was correct. They told me to do it this way. Why would they change their stories when the papers got a hold of them?"

Maine's Public Utilities Commission is rigorously promoting the use of CFL bulbs, as a replacement to incandescent bulbs, through government incentives for both businesses and household consumers.

Nicole Clegg, director of communication for the PUC, said through the Efficiency Maine program, which offers coupons to consumers buying CFLs, over 1 million bulbs have been purchased since the program began in 2002.

Clegg said that number works out to about $46 million in saved energy costs and 194,000 tons of carbon dioxide that has not been pumped into the atmosphere because of the reduced electricity use.

The director said that a CFL uses 50 percent to 80 percent less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb, lasts 10 times longer and is four times as efficient. The incandescent bulb was patented in 1880, so it's little wonder the technology has gotten better, she said.

"Our goal is to reduce energy or to keep the state of Maine's energy consumption flat. One of the most cost effective ways is to promote these lights," Clegg said.

Clegg said that people need to understand that using CFLs keeps more mercury out of the atmosphere and the environment than a normal incandescent bulb. And, if properly cared for, the bulbs "shouldn't have immediate health risks."

"If you have concerns about your electricity bill or the environment, changing your light bulb to a CFL is the simplest, easiest thing you can do," said Clegg.

Bridges still isn't convinced. She's worried about her daughter staying in the same house for the next 11 years, potentially having long-term exposure to mercury. She's worried about the rest of her family's health.

And she's worried about "the state downplaying the threat of mercury and not letting people know the dangers coming from one bulb" and "telling everybody to clean it up themselves."

"I think they are putting people's safety and health at risk because they know what the financial repercussions are going to be for the consumer," said Bridges.

For information on cleaning up a broken CFL, go to www.maine.gov/dep/.